Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Category: film

Gone Hollywood

I used to dream about about this town (Supertramp anyone?), but now I just wish I could have a month free from tackling a film or TV contract. And yes, I realize I’m whining about a good problem to have.

This summer I did seven book-to-film deals. (I’d like to clarify here that NLA does not represent screenplays or screenwriters. We only sell the film/TV rights to projects for which we have also sold the print/digital rights to a publishing house. I definitely do not want a stream of screenplay queries after this article goes live.)

Film/TV contracts tend to be 40 to 50 pages long and often require many rounds of negotiation before the contract is final and ready to sign. Studios hate to give in on requests because the biggest issue in Hollywood is that every contract sets precedent for the next—and neither side wants to get stuck with a deal term that will later come back to haunt.

So film/TV deals are quite sexy (for the author), but the time investment for the literary agent is significant. Most literary agents work with a film co-agent to shop and place film/TV rights, but I’ve negotiated and closed deals sans co-agent in conjunction with my entertainment attorney.

All this to say that even if a film co-agent is on board, it is actually the literary agent’s job to negotiate the heck out of the author’s reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. Who better understands the publishing agreement than the original agent who brokered the publishing deal? I speak from experience: there are lots of changes that can be made in a Hollywood contract, and if your agent is not getting significant changes, author beware. You might want to engage an experienced entertainment attorney to act on your behalf during the contract negotiation.

The Anatomy of a Reserved-Rights Clause in a Film/TV Contract

Now let’s chat about the anatomy of a reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. (There’s no way to tackle every aspect of a Hollywood deal in one article, so I see a series in my future!) The first thing that should be included in this clause (which, by the way, spells out which rights the author gets to keep, i.e., which rights are not being granted to the studio upon signing of the contract) is, rather hilariously, a hot-button topic during negotiations. I’m talking about novelization rights.

Think about it. The novel already exists because this is a book-to-film or book-to-TV deal! Yet the studios always try to get the right of novelization to the movie. As we all know, whether we like it or not, a film can vary greatly from the original novel on which it was based.

So just how can a studio novelize a film when the novel already exists, and they, in fact, based their production on that novel?

The answer is simple. They can’t. Novelization must be a right reserved to the author. Some studios literally won’t allow that, so we have to do an odd workaround—we have to “freeze” novelization rights so neither the author nor the studio can pursue. (Side note: this does not impact the original novel the author wrote, as that is already in existence.)

Yep. If you are thinking that is pretty ludicrous, I’m in total agreement with you. But that’s Hollywood.

Next month, I’ll chat about reserving all publishing rights in this important clause and the one publishing right we’ll actually allow as it’s good for the author and the studio.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Eva Luedin


A Digital Love Story of Survivability

The following would have been impossible even seven years ago:

This week I sold the film/tv rights for a memoir that a major publisher took out-of-print in 2013. But because of the indie-publishing revolution, the author had made her memoir available in the digital realm. Because of that, it was discoverable by a major Oscar-winning director and producer who not only took an interest, but also optioned the rights for television.

Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? Back in 2005, I met Kim Reid at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. Kim had made a pitch appointment, but she pitched me a novel that didn’t sound right for my list. However, in the course of our conversation, I learned about her extraordinary childhood as the daughter of one of the lead detectives who helped solve the Atlanta child murders, committed by Wayne Williams in the seventies and eighties.

I immediately told her, “You need to write that. I could definitely sell it!” So she did, and I signed her as a client. It took sixteen months of dogged determination, and Kim surviving a slew of rejections, but I finally sold No Place Safe in June 2006.

Kensington Publishing did a lovely job with it. Good packaging. Wonderful editing. And then the book was published, and bookstores shelved it, oddly, in African American Studies rather than in biography, where it truly belonged. I can honestly say that the shelving diminished the book’s discoverability, as well as its ability to sell.

Heartbreaking. By 2013, the work was out-of-print, and the rights reverted to Kim.

Luckily, the digital revolution happened. So Kim, in partnership with NLA Digital LLC, indie published the memoir to give it a second chance at life. Director/producer John Ridley found it. Bought a copy. Read and loved it so much that he convinced ABC Studios to buy it for him.

Suddenly, a memoir that would have dropped completely from sight was saved by publishing’s digital transformation. This title now has a ton of exciting new possibilities unfolding.

This is why I love agenting in the digital age. Authors have so many more options available now. And this particular terrific story happened to a very worthy book!

Photo Credit: Alyssa L. Miller


Why Authors Should Pay Attention to Gravity

Last week, Deadline posted the news that Warner Bros. was claiming victory after the dismissal of a $10 million lawsuit regarding the blockbuster movie Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

Quick Summary: Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen brought the suit making a claim that the movie was based on her book that New Line Productions had optioned in 1999. Warner Bros. acquired New Line studios and what is in question is whether Warner Bros, after the acquisition, is required to honor the New Line option agreement.  She explains in good detail on her blog.

So Warner Bros. might be crowing victory but what this boils down to is that the case was initially dismissed based on a legal technicality. Corrections need to be made to the case and then refiled. Nothing really has been decided.

So why should you care? You might be a writer at the beginning of your career. Maybe you don’t have a project under a film or tv option as of yet. Maybe writing as a career is simply a dream at the moment.

But someday you may very well be an established career author and what is decided in this court case will have far-reaching repercussions for all authors where Hollywood is concerned. You can bet that book-to-film co-agents are watching this very closely as are literary agents. This will change how projects are optioned in the future.

And just maybe the project being optioned is your book.


Almost Famous?

STATUS: TGIF! I have to say that today’s news is a totally new experience for me.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? FAITHFULLY by Journey

OMG! I’m speechless.

And to quote Marie, “Is that my head in Times Square?????”

Uh…yep.


Ah Hollywood

STATUS: Because it’s like zero degrees in Denver, we are listening to Escape to Margaritaville on XM radio. Does anyone have some sunscreen?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now: VOLCANO by Jimmy Buffett

I guess yesterday’s post rubbed some of the glittery shine off the idea of a big Hollywood film deal. The reality of how much of a share an author can expect is often a bit eye-opening. Sorry to be the one to deliver the bad news.

In order for a Studio to have the right to base a film on a book, they have to option the rights to the book. Sometimes these options can be good money—like high five figures or six figures. Most tend to be more modest though.

In fact, sometimes the best scenario is to have the producers or Studio continually renew the option but never produce the actual movie. It’s like free money every 18 months….

As I’ve never had stars in my eyes regarding Hollywood, I always advise authors to carefully consider whether they really want to sell the dramatic rights for their books.

1. Can they live with a bad script and/or a bad movie?
2. Do they understand that they may have very little say in the screenplay or the plot elements of the movie?
3. Do they understand that sometimes a movie made does not translate into a ton of book sales?
4. Do they realize that Hollywood can often be condescending to the authors whose books they’ve bought to translate to the screen?
5. Do they understand that the film co-agent could put together the absolutely best package of producer, screenwriter, studio, and acting talent and there is still the possibility that a bad movie will be made?

If an author is okay with all of the above, then we can shop the film rights. If not, better to wait until the author is in a more powerful position and has leverage to be able to dictate better terms.

And, I also tell them that a movie could be the best 2 hour commercial your books will have and that can translate into lots of book sales.

Which is also why I’m hyper vigilante about “publishing rights clauses” in any film contract and why I will have the author walk away from any contract that might encumber or infringe on their publication rights. In fact, I’ve threatened to walk away any number of times because Hollywood tried to grab some of those rights.

After all, publication is an author’s main venue for earning money. That must be protected at all costs.


Quick & Easy Answers

Status: Doing Client reading.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS THIS LOVE by Bob Marley

1) What happens if you can’t sell a book to a publisher?
If we have exhausted all possibilities, I’ll put aside and concentrate on the author’s next work. If the next sells, that always allows us to revisit the prior novel. Sometimes the decision is made to let the past be the past and simply move forward.

2) How do you know if a writer’s idea is a good one?
Not a clue really. All I know is what I like and what really resonates with me. I’ve had the good fortune of having what I like generally match up with what editors like and are willing to buy. Just like every other agent in the world, I’m not 100% right all the time. Sometimes I love a book and can’t sell it.

3) If Hollywood has bought the film rights, does the author get a share in the profit?
The sad news is that in general, the author does not get a share in the profit. Although all film deals will have the standard “5% of 100% of net,” most Hollywood films will never show a profit because of how studios manipulate the accounting. It’s worse than the mafia. So agents often build in a lot of ways for the author to make money on the film deal that aren’t tied to “profit” so loosely defined. The option price, the purchase price, bestseller bonuses, box office bonuses etc. These are payments that are not contingent on the film making money.

However, some authors do get a share in the profit. That is not a percentage based on net but a percentage based on a cashbreak point on gross.

A very different thing. Also, it is possible to put merchandizing in a separate pool with a separate percentage. Good money to potentially be made there as well.

4) Can you publish your book yourself or do you have to have a publisher?
Of course you can publish a book yourself! That’s not the right question though. Anyone can self publish; the question is distribution and how to get folks to read what you self publish.

5) How do you decide if the cover art is good?
I have to say that cover art is not my strength as an agent. I have no background in art and not much of a creative vision. However, I do know what I like and what I don’t like. If I don’t like it and neither does the author, I fight like crazy to get it changed.

6) Do publishers show animation for cover concepts?
No. But wouldn’t that be cool?

7) What happens if more than one publisher wants the book?
Then you have an auction my friend! As an author, it’s always the best place to be. However, I do think that writers have a misconception that all auctions equal big money. That is not necessarily true. You can have modest auctions that are in low five figures.


January Happenings

STATUS: Okay, two days without sunshine is one day too many here in Colorado. *grin*

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LET’S STAY TOGETHER by Nick Driver

I finally get to talk about the excitement unfolding here at NLA. What a way to kick off the year.

Huge Congrats, Marie, as the news hits Deadline Hollywood and Variety and of course, this blog! Since we don’t have cover art for the first book yet, you’ll just have to look at a picture of Marie Lu instead.

Notice the articles don’t mention the literary agent or film co-agent who actually brokered the deal. LOL. Hollywood. We are so unimportant.


How Enhanced Ebooks Will Cause Havoc

STATUS: It’s 8 p.m. and I’m still working…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KISS by Prince and The Revolution

In this instance, I’m not relieved to have my assumption proven right. When the first mention of “enhanced” ebook emerged, it became immediately apparent (to me at least) that an enhanced ebook is a multimedia product. A subright agents always reserve for the author.

Agents reserve these rights because in order to do a book-to-film deal, you have to be able to grant multimedia rights to the film studio as part of the grant of rights for the option.

This was reinforced for me today as I reviewed film contract with a major studio. Sure enough, in the rights reserved to the author section, I found this clause:

Electronically Read Editions: The right to publish the text of published print editions of the Property via the Internet and in the form of CD-ROM, DVD, videocassette tape or similar electronically read devices individually purchased by the end-user. Such electronically read editions may not contain moving visual images (other than the text) or audio tracks of any kind.

Look at that last sentence. Here it’s clearly stated in the film contract that the ebook cannot have any animation or sound element.

Well, guess what publishers would like to have with an enhanced ebook? Yep. We’ve got a problem, Houston. If publishers dig in on this and this is the studio’s stance, well, granting a publisher a not-clearly-defined enhanced ebook right (which is multimedia) could derail a film deal.

Luckily for me on this contract, it’s not an issue as the deal in question has a publishing contract that predates any of this recent hoopla.

But it’s clear that this is going to be an issue in the future.


No Free Options

STATUS: I “ignored” email for two days so I could catch up on some royalty statement reviews and contract issues. If the email wasn’t imperative, I waited until the end of the day to start responding. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get behind in a big hurry.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PRIVATE DANCER by Tina Turner

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, right? I wish Hollywood would understand that there should be no such thing as a free option.

Now in talking to my film co-agents, I do know that Hollywood has also gotten hit hard by the downturn in the economy. That finding money is tougher now than it has been in years. I get that.

But I’m also sensing an interesting trend as of late. I am actually getting more inquiries about the film rights availability for a lot of my client’s projects than I have in years past.

I can’t be the only agent who has gotten a slew of interest lately only to discover when push comes to shove (as in do you have money to option said project), the interested parties say they were hoping for a free option—that they would like to “test the waters” or “shop it around” or “try to get it set up somewhere.”

And then on top of a free option they want an exclusive to boot!

Uh-huh. And I’d like to win the Powerball lotto or inherit the Hope diamond too.


Books Coming To The Big Screen

STATUS: Feeling re-energized after the long weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU CAN LEAVEYOUR HAT ON by Joe Cocker

On Thursday night, as the holiday weekend was beginning, I met up with two girlfriends for dinner. Once ensconced at our table, one friend said she was dying to see the movie My Sister’s Keeper and were we game?

As much as I love movies, it’s rare for me to get my act together enough to actually see a film while it’s in theaters. I tend to rely on Netflix or the DVR if something is on cable. So when given an opportunity to see a book-to-film movie, I’m going to say yes (despite knowing this one was going to be a Kleenex fest).

Sheesh. What a way to kick off the holiday weekend.

(Disclaimer: I cry at movies. Doesn’t matter the movie. If it has a hint of sadness, I’ll cry. My husband has never let me live it down that I cried at the end of Terminator III. Hey, in my defense, Claire Danes as Kate just lost her pet and her entire family—I thought that was pretty sad.)

So My Sister’s Keeper was designed to be a real tear-jerker and I’m happy to say that I used plenty of Kleenex. As I had read the book several years ago, I was most interested to see how the film would handle the ending—as there was a lot of discussion around the ending of that book. (No spoiler here so I won’t comment further.)

But here’s what I found most interesting and hence the point of this entry, all the previews shown before the movie were all book-to-film projects. I wish I could remember all the trailers I saw but only Julie/and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously comes to mind (which looked pretty hilarious).

So very interesting. I don’t remember such a high percentage in previous years but that may be because I don’t get to the theaters often enough.


Denver Skyline Photo © Nathan Forget [Creative Commons] | Site built by Todd Jackson